ICv2 got a chance to talk to DC Co-Publishers Dan Didio and Jim Lee last month in our annual conversation about the state of the market and DC’s place in it.  This year’s conversation comes at a critical time for DC, as it re-launches its entire line and expands its digital strategy.  In Part 3, we talk about the move to digital release at the same time as print, comics for kids, and media drivers of sales.  In Part 1, we talked about the market conditions that led DC to its decisions, the reactions to its price cuts, and the full line relaunch.  And in Part 2, we talked about the connections between DC and Warners on things like the full line relaunch, and the different aspects of event fatigue.

Another big change that you’re making soon is going same date digital with your whole line.  There’s been a very wide range of comments on that and on what people expect from it.  What does DC expect to happen from its digital and print sales as a result of that change?
Lee:  Our hope and expectation is that the digital slice of our overall publishing revenue will increase and that the total size of the publishing pie, both print, and digital increases.  We do think that digital is our best opportunity to gain new readers and bring lapsed readers back into the hobby and people have been talking about what companies could be doing to bring in new readers for as long as I’ve been in comics.  We finally have this opportunity and it concerns me that people don’t see it as a great opportunity. It clearly is.

Our initial sales data from a year and a half of digital sales shows it’s a slightly different reader, shows that we’re reaching people that aren’t necessarily near a comic book shop or don’t live near a comic book shop.  To me it’s exciting as a co-publisher and a creator that we’re going to get new people checking out these comic books.  They might be consuming in ways that are very different than for you and I as kids growing up, I guarantee that.  But that excites me too because I think it’s going to impact the industry and the way we tell stories.  I think having the art form adapt itself to the digital medium ultimately will pay off huge for the business.

Some people feel the digital reader is closer to the trade reader than the periodical comic reader.  Do you think that’s true and do you think that the individual comic issue or collections are going to be the primary type of product that digital consumers are going to buy?
Didio:  From the periodic side, I have to say you’ll get some people who are both digital and periodic readers buying into both because there might be some benefit to being able to have that collection, to hold that comic in your hand, but still being able to have the accessibility of reading wherever you are.  I have to agree that, to a point, on the periodic side, there’s a certain habit, a certain expectation, there’s a certain need to be able to go out there and buy comics on a regular basis.  And in those folks that I see being periodic, just means they can’t get to a store or don’t have a store close enough if they’re buying it on the digital side.  As I always say there’s a certain level of collectability that has kept and sustained the comics business that I don’t think will change regardless of digital or not.

Lee:  There’s a core group of readers that are committed to print, for any reason, and I think a lot of that speaks to the collectability factor of comics.  It’s not just about the entertainment value of what you’re reading, there are a lot of people that do collect comics as collectibles and like the idea of building a collection and having that kind of modality has excitement for what’s going on in September.

Talking about what consumers will be like, if the trade buyer is more of a casual buyer, then I would say that’s true-- that a digital consumer would be nearer to what you’re seeing in terms of waiting for the trade.  That said, I think there’s also a very healthy business model that’s very successful now where people are putting up digital content either for free or for paid periodical installments, and then actually selling a lot of collected editions in print.  Penny Arcade, PVP, that kind of thing.

I think that a third trend that people aren’t necessarily looking at, which is the idea that “hey, there might be consumers who consuming these comics digitally on a periodic basis and then buying their favorite series in print form to put on a coffee table or to amass as part of their personally identified fan collection of books.

You mentioned piracy early on as a threat or something that was negatively impacting print comic sales.  Was the move to same day digital in part to respond to that?
Lee:  That is definitely part of it. I think piracy is something that is probably underrepresented as an issue to the industry, partly because people don’t want to address that it exists, and we don’t necessarily have accurate ways of measuring its true impact on the industry.  But the fact that the bit torrent sites are updated the day the books come out, the fact that they’re so accessible and the fact that the trades are still selling very well, speaks to the fact that people are still following the hobby, but in an illegal way.  If you give a lot people the opportunity to buy the content legally that we’ll some conversion of people who are illegally downloading them to legally paying for content if they can get it day and date.

Is there anything happening on the enforcement side to couple the availability of free material with heavier enforcement on the illegal side?
Lee:  No, it’s a very difficult, complex problem that is very difficult to stamp out.  There have been a couple of incidents where we’ve brought down a Website or two that have been public knowledge, but you put down one and two more spring up elsewhere.  There are other things we’ve been discussing under the whole anti-piracy department at Warner Brothers, and it’s something that we would love to be able to be more aggressive.  It’s a very difficult thing to tackle, because it’s a very mobile situation and in flux.  It’s difficult to find the people who are actually doing it.

In these new initiatives you’re undertaking, how is DC changing its approach to getting kids as comic customers?
Didio:  Right now we’re determining kids as being teenagers at this moment and that’s where our focus is with the New 52 books.  But we’re also still publishing a kids line for 11 and younger, and that hasn’t changed at all.  We continue to try to find ways to get those products into other marketplaces as well in order to get them into kids’ hands.

Looking forward into 2012, what do you see as the big opportunities in media events (movies, television, video games) that are related to DC properties and have a good opportunity to drive sales?
Didio:  From my standpoint, I’m not as focused on that, since we’re focused primarily on the publishing side.  The main goal for us right now is to make the publishing stand alone and be as robust and healthy as possible. And therefore whatever benefit we get from any movies, or any of the other media pushes for our product is just icing on the cake.  We have to be able to stand on our own feet.  It’s one of the reasons that we’re going to such great lengths to make sure our publishing line is as vibrant as possible.

Lee:  We do have some initiatives—the Arkham City project is an example.  We’re doing a comic book that heads up the videogame. We had digital exclusive interstitial content, short 8-page stories that we offered in between the print issues, and then we’re going to take all that content and collect it in the trade that will drop the same day as the game coming out in October.

To me that’s one of the of kinds of opportunities we get working with all the different divisions of Warner Brothers, to coordinate our efforts so that we can maximize all the different things that Warner Bros. is able to do with different businesses it’s in.  That said, we could always use a bunch more of these kinds of projects.  Our main focus is on publishing, but when these opportunities come up, like Arkham City, we definitely make it a big part of what we’re doing, and coordinate with the other sister divisions to make sure it goes off as well as we hoped.

Anything we didn’t ask you about that you’re excited about over the next 6-12 months?
Didio:  No. Have to see where we stand six to 12 months from now, actually.

Click here for Part 1.